The Nova Scotia Advocate: Barrett the Privateer: Pillaging the spoils of Nova Scotia’s rent crisis

Posted November 3, 2020

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) –  This week the Chronicle Herald ran two stories about HRM residents who can no longer afford to pay their rent.
 
Grace Fogerty is a 63 year old woman who works at a gas station. She has lived in her Halifax apartment for 10 years. Her rent, which was $725 a month, will increase in April by $650—a 90% increase. She simply can’t afford to pay $1375 a month for a one bedroom apartment on Dutch Village Road.   
 
Not yet old enough for Canada Pension, to make ends meet, Fogerty has to work as many hours as she can at a job that pays little better than minimum wage. Her support system and her health have taken a beating. Recently, her daughter passed away, and  both Fogerty’s  parents died. If she has to pay more in rent, she will have to forego drugs which are important to treat her various medical issues.  
 
Another Chronicle Herald story relates how a man saw rent at his apartment at 58 Main Avenue in Fairview increase by $250 to $1600 a month. The story speculates that the increase contributed to the man committing suicide.
 
The man lived on disability. In 2019, he and a roommate split the $695 rent for the same apartment. In June 2019, Adam Barrett, owner of AMK Barrett Investments, bought the building. A related company, BlackBay Real Estate Group, sent Clark a letter warning that the rent was going up to $1350 a month – a 94% increase. Less than a year later, in May 2020, BlackBay sent a letter to say the rent was rising again by $250 on October 1. The letter said if the man couldn’t pay, he would have to move out by that date. Over a period of one year, Clark faced a rent increase of more than 130%. 
 
 The man’s nephew told the Herald he had looked everywhere but had not been able to find an affordable apartment. Aged 62, on disability and living alone, finding a decent apartment in HRM on a low income is next to impossible.
 
What is new and very revealing is the attitude of BlackBay Real Estate’s  ‘tenant relations’ officer,’ Chris Khoury, who manages AMK properties.   In Halifax, we’ve reached the point that landlords or their agents are allowed to publicly insult, dismiss or condemn tenants for being poor, being sick or being unlucky.   
 
Khoury justified the catastrophic rent increase this way.  First he said that if  the properties are upgraded, rents have to reflect the improvements.  Second, Khoury stated that the original building was “fully run down”.
 
Let’s look at this.  This building and the others that Barrett has purchased was run down. Barrett’s company AMK bought it cheaply.  The company upgraded the electrical, the plumbing and then it raised the rents – not a little but exponentially. What AMK wants to do is to increase the rents so they compare to rents in downtown Halifax. AMK does not want to rent to poor tenants or people on assistance.  
 
This is a classic move that could be called “blockbusting.”  Buying up older or neglected apartment buildings, upgrading them and renting them for sometimes double the rent.  
 
What can be done? Since neither Mayor Savage nor Premier Stephen McNeil seems committed to much besides handwringing and claiming these are weighty matters, perhaps complaints to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission could help.  
 
For example, the renter who faces homelessness due to being unable to afford their new ‘upgraded’ apartment could file a complaint. Landlords such as Barrett are discriminating against tenants on the basis of “source of income.” In other words because a tenant is on disability, on pension, or receives social assistance — in effect the tenant is being denied an apartment. 
 
Or perhaps women pushed out of their homes could file a complaint on the basis of sex. 28 % of senior women live in poverty, compared to 24% for senior men. And one-third of women earn $15 or less an hour.  
 
 Also because of having to take time off  to raise their children, women are often shut out of permanent and full time jobs with decent pensions.  In 2009, women’s Canada Pensions were only about 65% of those of men
 
Organizations like ACORN Nova Scotia have been standing up for the homeless and people losing their homes because of rent-gouging landlords. Rent control has been mentioned, but McNeil as recently as this week absolutely refuses to consider it. He probably  has many friends amongst the builders, the landlords and in the development community. Clearly their money talks.

 

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Article by Judy Haiven for the Nova Scotia Advocate

 

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